10/05/2002 03:26 am ET
Yankees' pitching hits a bump
Bullpen comes up short in five intense innings
By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Although the Yankees have been known for their home runs this season, Joe Torre's teams have always based their success on pitching. Given the way the Yankees' pitchers have thrown the ball in the American League Division Series, it's hardly a surprise that New York finds itself on the brink of elimination heading into Game 4.
For the third consecutive game, New York had to turn to its bullpen earlier than expected. Only this time, it was due to an injury. Starter Mike Mussina left Game 3 with tightness in his groin after just four innings, calling on the bullpen to put out another extraordinary effort.
Only it wasn't there.
"I hope I'm always surprised when our bullpen doesn't hold the lead," Torre said. "But you really have to credit the Angels, they scored in six of the eight innings. We only shut them out two innings of the eight, that's not too good."
The blame can't be laid completely on the bullpen's shoulders, as Mussina allowed three runs before his injury. After being staked to a 3-0 lead in the first, he gave up a run in the second. New York answered with three more in the third, giving Mussina a comfortable five-run lead, but the right-hander allowed two more in the bottom of the inning, making it a 6-3 game. Then, on his last pitch in the third, he felt a pull in his groin and knew he was in trouble.
"It didn't really kill me, so I thought maybe it wasn't too bad," Mussina said. "I went out to warm up for the fourth and it was still bothersome. I did what I could to get through the fourth inning and then I told them I couldn't go anymore."
He got through the fourth, but not without allowing a two-out homer to Adam Kennedy, cutting the lead to two runs. Mussina left the game having given up four runs on six hits, striking out two.
"I've had better stuff, I know that," Mussina said. "I was fair at best, but it's frustrating when something like this happens and there's nothing you can do about it."
Said Torre: "Moose pulled the groin, but it wasn't the groin that gave up the runs, because he was OK at that point. The starting pitching hasn't been as good as we're capable of being. Simple as that."
Jeff Weaver came in from the bullpen to replace Mussina, and that's where the trouble began.
"We rely on our pitching and they've hit our pitching," said Derek Jeter. "We came out and scored the runs early, led 6-1 after three innings. More often than not the game is over, but they continued to battle."
The Angels scored a run in the sixth off Weaver to make it a one-run game. With runners on first and second and two outs, Torre called on Mike Stanton to put the fire out on Weaver's jam. He did that, getting Darin Erstad to fly out to center, but his night was just beginning.
Stanton gave up the game-tying run in the seventh on Scott Spiezio's RBI single, but Torre sent Stanton out to start the eighth. Kennedy hit a shallow fly ball toward the right-field line, which Raul Mondesi tried to run down. Mondesi got to the ball, but it glanced off his glove, giving Kennedy a double to put the go-ahead run 90 feet away.
"That was a good pitch, and once I let go of the ball, I can't do anything about it," Stanton said. "It was a fastball that got in on him and it shattered his bat. He just hit it where Mondy couldn't get to it."
David Eckstein bunted Kennedy to third, setting the stage for Erstad to redeem himself for his sixth-inning flyout against Stanton. Stanton got ahead of Erstad 1-2, but Erstad lined the next pitch down the right field line to give the Angels their first lead of the game. To Stanton, that last pitch was the only one he wanted back from his whole outing.
"That was possibly my one mistake," Stanton said. "It wasn't a bad pitch, but it was a little higher than I wanted. I wanted to bounce it, and I didn't quite get it down there. I'm looking for a strikeout, and if I can get it down a little further, maybe he swings over the top of it. I didn't."
Steve Karsay entered the game, coming in for the third straight game after the Angels had taken a one-run lead. With Erstad on second and Tim Salmon at the plate, Karsay wanted to get ahead of Salmon quickly. Unfortunately for him, it was Salmon who got ahead, launching the first pitch he saw into the left-field seats to put Anaheim ahead 9-6.
"He guessed that something off-speed was coming, and I threw a curveball," Karsay said. "I thought I was made a pretty good pitch. It was a little bit out in front of him, but he's so strong, he hit it a couple of rows deep into the corner."
For the Yankees, it was a disappointing performance by four pitchers in a game they should have won.
"I was out of there earlier than I wanted to be. Sometimes when you ask too much of your bullpen, good things aren't going to happen," Mussina said. "Going out there and not making it past the fourth, our starters haven't been that successful in this series. We've asked too much of our bullpen, and that's not really what their job is."
If the Yankees are to send the series back to New York, they will need a strong performance out of Game 4 starter David Wells -- and possibly their bullpen.
"They're taking it to us pretty good," said general manager Brian Cashman. "I don't think we're pitching up to our abilities, but they're an extremely volatile team. You don't want to take anything away from them, because they're earning everything they're getting, making things happen for themselves. We also have to make better pitches, and we're not getting it done. Hopefully we'll have two days to get it done and rectify it."
If not, it could be an early winter -- and a long one -- for the Yankees.
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.